Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"History of My Face" by Khaled Mattawa

"History of My Face" by Khaled Mattawa

My lips came with a caravan of slaves
That belonged to the Grand Sanussi.
In Al-Jaghbub he freed them.
They still live in the poor section of Benghazi
Near the hospital where I was born.

They never meant to settle
In Tokara those Greeks
Whose eyebrows I wear
—then they smelled the wild sage
And declared my country their birthplace.

The Knights of St. John invaded Tripoli.
The residents of the city
Sought help from Istanbul. In 1531
The Turks brought along my nose.

My hair stretches back
To a concubine of Septimus Severus.
She made his breakfast,
Bore four of his sons.

Uqba took my city
In the name of God.
We sit by his grave
And I sing to you:

Sweet lashes, arrow-sharp,
Is that my face I see
Reflected in your eyes?

Thanks to Imen Bennani for reminding me of this poem again, from Mattawa's first book, *Ismaila Eclipse*!


Maureen said...

Mattawa reads this poem on today's NewsHour Art Beat, where he also talks with Jeffrey Brown.

Philip Metres said...

Oh, thanks, Maureen--it's got many lives! Khaled deserves the readership, and his hometown Benghazi deserves better than Qaddafi.